Sunday, Aug. 23, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20.
What has become of our understanding of power and authority? They, like the gift of fatherhood, have suffered a philosophical and practical revolution whose roots are too complex to treat here. Today’s readings, however, invite us to rediscover the link between the love of God the Father and the entrustment of power and authority from the divine perspective.
When Isaiah prophesies that Shebna will be thrust from his office as royal treasurer, he reveals that Shebna has failed in leadership by living a life of personal indulgence while ignoring God and failing to ensure justice for the people. Therefore, God takes away the power that was entrusted to Shebna and gives it to Eliakim, who “shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Isaiah 22:21). This ruler, who is called to exercise paternal care is, the prophet announces, entrusted with “the key of the House of David … when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). The link is explicit between Eliakim’s love for God and the people and his authority to open and close.
This divine entrustment of authority is evident throughout the history of Israel. God called rulers to shepherd his people well, to serve them in justice. Today’s Psalm reveals something of the divine logic of power, “The Lord is exalted, yet the lowly he sees, and the proud he knows from afar. Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:6, 8). God loves his creatures. He looks to those who are humbly willing to serve in order to entrust them with authority rooted in his own paternal love.
This divine plan continues today in God’s entrustment of his people to the pastors of the Church and ultimately to Peter’s successor, the pope. It is when Simon Peter acknowledged Christ’s divine sonship that Jesus affirmed the Father’s choice of him to be the rock upon which the Church would be built and to be the one entrusted with “the keys to the kingdom of heaven, [that] whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
The power to bind and loose is a power of mercy, the mercy of the Father mediated by Christ and his Body, the Church. St. Catherine of Siena, who possessed a profound love for the Church and the papacy, spoke of the entrustment of divine authority as “keys to the blood.” She understood that not only to the pope, but also to every priest, is entrusted the divine authority to extend the grace of the saving sacrifice of Christ to those who approach the Eucharistic Lord. She begged people to pray fervently for priests and for the pope, that they become faithful ministers of the mysteries they celebrate and truthful guardians of the deposit of faith.
In every age, as in the time of Isaiah, there have been leaders who serve themselves more than the people entrusted to them.
May we, like St. Catherine of Siena, pray for leaders in the Church and in civil society.
Only with God’s grace can we rediscover what power and authority are as a share in the strength of the Lord and recommit to accepting and living the love that seeks to serve rather than to be served.
Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a Dominican Sister of the
St. Cecilia Congregation in
Nashville. She received her
doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome and
currently teaches religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.